So he sticks with the tired-and-true. Now we’re playing “Stormy Monday,” yet another take on the same worn out blues-wannabe formula. Mike has exhausted his usual means of expressing disgust. His normally angry bass has become pathetic, like a spoiled child sobbing quietly after an ignored temper tantrum. I’m feeling pretty beat-up myself, wondering whether Louie would stiff me for the entire week if I were to quit on the spot.
Jimmy’s growing role can only hasten the demise of this one-time jazz mecca—that much I’m sure of. And the writing, by all appearances, is on the wall: He sang one tune last set, three already this set...tomorrow we could be wearing matching polyester suits and doing choreographed dance steps.
“Stormy Monday” comes to a close; same clichéd ending, same ridiculous emotional posturing. Mike and I turn to Jimmy as one, wondering what other three-chord horrors he might add to the evening’s wretched repertoire. Jimmy smiles at me, winks, and asks, “Do you know ‘Who Can I Turn To?’” This is a stunning development; a beautiful ballad that has no more in common with the previous bile than Louie has with Max Roach. “Well, yeah,” I say. “You don’t...do this as a shuffle, do you?”
“Of course not, man, come on—it’s a ballad. E flat.”
This is a dangerous situation for me: with my normally protective Indifference worn threadbare, I involuntarily allow myself to care. Mike, a full-scale casualty by now, accepts the Jimmy’s musical cease-fire, and when I construct a delicate introduction he’s right there with me, volume toned down to a level of civility. Louie comes in, playing lightly with brushes in an apparent effort to exercise taste. When Jimmy starts singing, he’s crooning instead of shouting, and he sounds pretty good, really.
The entire melody proceeds in this most unlikely manner: four musicians on the Cookin’ Cadenza stage making an earnest effort to create something beautiful. Jimmy rounds off the final phrase and turns to me, whispering “You got it, man.” Something inside makes me defer with a nod to Mike, wanting to reward him for his good behavior, disregarding my fears that this could easily turn out to THE SOLO; ready, even, to endorse it. But he nods back at me, vaguely smiling, and looks away, leaving me no choice. I dig deep into The Whore, trying to plumb its wretched body for whatever sweet spots are to be found.
And even The Whore decides to behave. I concede to myself, unbelievably, that this is becoming one of my best Cookin’ Cadenza moments ever, right in the midst of what had appeared to be the Apocalypse. I feel almost giddy, weak from what I’ve been through, ecstatic about where I am. The audience is listening attentively and I’m about a minute into my solo when I hear a strangely soothing voice begin to speak.
“Ladies and gentleman,” the voice begins, “I want to share with you a wonderful experience I had last week.” Something is not quite right: the voice has the artificial warmth of a television commercial, perhaps for Kodak film, managed health care, or life insurance. I’m momentarily distracted from my solo by the image of three golden kids playing with a golden poodle in a golden field, all smiles and hugs. It is disturbing.
“Last week, ladies and gentleman, I decided to take a journey. I wanted to look at my life—think about the things that really matter.”
WHAT IS GOING ON?!! My concentration is now defeated and the lofty musical moment behind me—clearly it’s time to shift gears. Still playing, I look up to discover that the speaker is Jimmy, holding the microphone close to his chest, head bowed, eyes closed. I keep soloing, but now it’s just fingers wiggling. I feel cheapened, my once heartfelt music transformed into a fuzzy underscore. I desperately need to recapture Indifference.
“I drove for hours into the beautiful countryside: fields, meadows, and not another human being around. I found a cottage, very plain: no tv or telephone. Just me and my music.” He sounded as if he might at any moment begin to sob.
“Before I left, ladies and gentleman, I bought a new CD from my dear friend, Phil Anscull; my good friend who you’re hearing even as I share this with you.” He stepped toward me and held the mike above the piano for effect, then gathered it back and pressed it into his chest again. With his free hand, he reached into his pocket and produced a copy of my CD. He framed it for the audience, in the manner of detergent and cereal commercials.
And then I understood. He was selling my CD—and selling it hard—because he thought I could help him get the gig. I was furious, and I had no idea how to cut him off. Louie and Mike were looking at me quizzically, but we all kept on playing. Jimmy kept pouring it on extra thick, totally blind to the fact that he was making us all look like buffoons.
—The music on this CD, ladies and gentlemen, is transforming. I sat in my little cottage in the woods, closed my eyes, and just listened. It was profound, and it changed my life.” Jimmy, of course, had never, ever, heard my CD, or for that matter even met me prior to tonight.
As if things at this point aren’t troubling enough, it suddenly dawns on me that from Louie’s perspective, the entire scenario probably looks like an orchestrated scam. During our break I’ve asked the singer to plug my CD, and to do it within the performance, so a captive audience will have little choice but to listen. The audience will assume the club is endorsing my product, but I’m the one who will get all the money, and I’ve never asked for permission. I look at Louie; his eyes are now fixed straight ahead, his face expressionless.
“This CD is art of the highest order. It’s jazz, America’s great indigenous music. And it’s being played by my great friend, right here, my...”
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